Our Homeschool Language Arts this Year

Hello! I hope you are having a wonderful homeschool week! I am planning to do a series on the blog about how we are doing different subjects in our homeschool this year with all the different ages we have. I’m happy to answer any questions about the resources we are using; just leave me a comment on this post.

First up is language arts. For us, this subject includes grammar, writing, spelling or vocabulary work, and handwriting practice. Here’s how we are handling language arts in our homeschool this year:

11th grade

Grammar: I have decided to let my 11th grader be done with grammar.  She has completed all three seasons of Analytical Grammar and had started on one of that company’s high school review books but was finding it a bit tedious. She has done grammar every year since she was six and feels like she has gotten everything from it she can. So we have dropped this as a formal subject.

Writing: We decided to give Bravewriter’s online classes a try this year and I am so glad we did. She enrolled in Expository Essay: Exploratory and Persuasive to start off the fall, then finished the fall semester by doing Nanowrimo. She is beginning Bravewriter’s Expository Essay: Rhetorical Critique and Analysis this week, which is kind of a “part two” of the first class she took. She has really enjoyed the Bravewriter class format and feels it has been a really good experience for her as she transitions to college classes (she is dual-enrolled at a local community college). I plan to have my other kids also take Bravewriter classes in high school so they get to experience someone besides me giving them feedback on their writing. Besides this, her writing is primarily taking place through her other subjects and dual enrollment classes.

Vocabulary – She is completing the Vocabulary from Classical Roots series by finishing up Book E, which will complete her formal study of this subject.

9th grade and 7th grade

My two boys overlap a bit, so I’m going to combine them here…

Grammar: My 9th grader (and my 7th grader) are working through Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind. We have kind of a mixed bag reaction to this resource. My kids, to be honest, protest when I bring it out. But, being one of those people who really sees the importance of grammar, I have asked them to go through a year of it. The program is designed to be repeated every year, but we’ll most likely find something different for next year.  I personally think it’s a very thorough, rigorous program, but in my house it causes a lot of whining so I don’t think it will have staying power.  We have compromised by doing whatever we can orally and only completing half of the diagrams for each lesson. We try to cover 2-3 lessons per week.

 

 

Writing: Both my 9th and 7th graders are working through the fifth book of Writing Strands. We use this book in a bit of a loose manner, in that I don’t require the boys to do all of the assignments. They look at each assigned writing project as they get to it and decide if they want to tackle it or not. If not, I ask them to write up a nonfiction paper on something that interests them instead. Writing Strands is quite creative-writing oriented, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, so this has been our solution.  They just work a bit on either their Writing Strands assignment or other writing project a bit each day; we don’t try to stick to the exact daily assignments in the book. I am currently trying to decide if I want to introduce more Bravewriter-style writing projects as another alternative to the Writing Strands assignments.

Spelling and Vocabulary: My 9th grader is finished with spelling (he did the Spelling Workout series) and is working on vocabulary now with Wordly Wise 9. He does a few pages each week and at the end of each lesson we do an oral quiz on the words before he moves on to the next lesson. Easy and pretty painless.  My 7th grader is working through Spelling Workout G, at the rate of about one lesson per week.

 

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4th grade

Grammar: My fourth grader is working through First Language Lessons 4. I really, really love First Language Lessons for elementary (review here). It has just the right amount of rigor, and there’s even a bit of fun sprinkled throughout the lessons. Last week, for example, we made a sandwich and used the process to review prepositions.  We usually do 2-3 lessons a week.

Writing: She is using Writing Strands 4. I modify the assignments for her as needed. For example, she just had an assignment to draw a floor plan of the whole house and then write a description for each room. I had a feeling that assignment  might cause a meltdown, so we have been working together on a description of just one room (we skipped the floor plan idea entirely). I also give her the option of other writing assignments if one of the Writing Strands assignments doesn’t catch her fancy.

Spelling: She is working through Spelling Workout D, usually completing one lesson each week.

Handwriting: My fourth grader is also doing handwriting practice, just a bit each day. She is using Zaner-Bloser for this (book 4).

In addition to the above, I am also using Five in a Row Volume 4 with her, which includes a language arts component for each book. This is just a fun extra for her right now and we are taking a few weeks to “row” each book. Our current book is Snowflake Bentley.

And that’s how we’re doing language arts this year in our homeschool!

How We Do Analytical Grammar

Now that I have gone through our whole homeschool day, I am planning to go through the curriculum we are using this year and talk a little about how we use it and how it’s working out.

First up will be all things math and language arts, starting with Analytical Grammar, which both Grace and Christopher are using this year.

Analytical Grammar is unique among grammar programs because it is meant to be used over just two or three years – or “seasons” – after which your child is considered a grammar expert in need of just occasional review to keep up skills. Not only that, but each season takes only a few months to finish. I think both of my kids will probably finish up their season sometime in the next two months. Then, for the rest of the year, they will only need to do a review activity every other week. The program seemed a bit pricey to me at first, but there is only one book (plus a teacher book) to buy for the entire program, so I believe the price is competitive with other programs out there…possibly even cheaper.

 The AG website has information about how to pace the program, depending on your child’s age. Our current plan is to have Grace complete the program in about two years; she is currently working on the third and final season during her ninth grade year. Christopher will take about three years to go through the book; he is currently working on season two during his seventh grade year.

There are really no bells and whistles with AG. It is just plain old grammar taught with lecture notes and worksheets, with a test at the end of each unit. Christopher struggled with the rigor and plainness of it all at first.  At one point last year I started looking around for something more engaging for him…. but then I decided to make a few adjustments and stick it out. A year later I am very glad we did.  This is a challenging grammar program for sure, but it works!  My kids have learned so much from this program, and the thing with grammar study is that it is about so much more than just the grammar itself.  Christopher in particular is getting much better at paying attention to detail and doing careful work.   And in just a few weeks we will be done with the bulk of grammar for the year, which will give us more time to focus on some other things.

 Analytical Grammar consists of 10 units in Season 1, 7 units in Season 2, and 18 units in Season 3. Season 1 introduces the parts of speech and sentence diagramming, Season 2 focuses on verbals and clauses and how to diagram them, and Season 3 covers punctuation, subject-verb agreement, and active and passive voice, among other topics. Grace is really enjoying the third season; she feels like it’s a break from the rigor of the first two seasons.

So here’s how we use Analytical Grammar.

We don’t try to cover any set amount in one week. Grace (14) usually works on grammar for 30-45 minutes, three days a week. She reads through the notes herself and does the exercises. She gets done what she gets done in that time. She does every problem on each worksheet, and I try to check her work daily and give her feedback. At the end of each unit she takes the test and I grade it for her. AG makes it very easy to grade the tests, so it’s a good chance for me to give the kids that experience of getting a grade, since I don’t grade other subjects. 

Christopher (12)  does grammar 3-4 times per week, with the goal of finishing one exercise each day. I use the shortcut method for him, as suggested in the book.

 At the beginning of a new unit I sit down and discuss the unit notes with him. The notes are in the Teacher Book as well as the Student Book, so it is easy for us to do this together.

We do the first two sentences of Exercise 1 together, then he completes the exercise on his own. There are usually about ten sentences to label and diagram. Sometimes he can handle doing all of it in one day, but more often Exercise 1 takes him two days to complete.

For Exercises 2 and 3 I let him do every other sentence, as long as he can do them well. If he needs more practice we use the extra sentences. Diagrams are done on a separate sheet of paper.

At the end of the unit, he takes the test, and I grade it for him.

The Teacher Book is an absolute must for this program: I could not do without it because grammar doesn’t come easily to me! When the kids have a question I usually have to check my book before I can answer them. Naturally they notice this and sometimes poke fun at me, but I don’t claim to be a grammar expert so I am okay with that…we are learning together.   The Teacher Book also contains lots of helpful notes and ideas for how to do the program.

 I will post separately about the review and reinforcement books when we begin using them in a few months. James is using Junior Analytical Grammar and I will post separately on that as well.

So in general, the grammar progression at our house is First Language Lessons through Level 4, Junior Analytical Grammar, Analytical Grammar, and then AG’s high school reinforcement and review books. I am happy to have found a progression that works, at least for now.

Our Language Arts Block

Last week I shared our current homeschool routine. Today I am going to share what we do during our language arts block. We start our day with our math block, which I posted about last time. In actual practice though,  the language arts block and math block blend into each other, because my younger three are all using Teaching Textbooks this year and need to take turns on the computer.  So while someone is doing math, the other two are working on language arts. My oldest does math and language arts on her own schedule, so this post only applies to my younger three.

Before we start,  I get out our math crate and our language arts crate. I keep all of our math supplies in one crate and all of our language arts supplies in another crate. No more I couldn’t find my spelling book, so I couldn’t do it! I tell you, it is amazing how often those spelling books got misplaced last year.

So I get out the crates and take everything out of them that I hope to do that day and pile it up on the table.

Then, I just work through the pile with whoever isn’t doing math.  Our language arts block includes  handwriting, grammar, spelling, and our writing program. Some things they do independently, some they do semi-independently, and some are more teacher-intensive.

Independently they do:

  • Handwriting (James & Rose only, Christopher doesn’t do handwriting anymore)
  • Spelling (for Christopher & James)

Semi-independently they do:

  • Spelling (for Rose, who needs help with some of the reading involved)
  • Grammar (for Christopher & James… I usually need to go over the assignment with them, then be available to help with questions)
  • Writing Strands (for Christopher & James…. I go over the assignment with them, need to be available for questions, and then check in with them when they are done)

With me they do:

  • Writing with Ease (James & Rose)
  • Writing Strands (Rose needs help for the whole assignment)
  • Grammar (I do First Language Lessons with Rose)

So my general routine is to send James to do math, make sure Christopher is working on some language arts that he can do independently or semi-independently, and then do something more teacher-intensive with Rose. Then, I just rotate around through kids and books for the rest of our language arts time. I have been getting better at juggling things, but things do not always run as smoothly as I would like.  I get very frazzled when I am interrupted a lot, so it was important to me to set aside this time for us all to do language arts and math together. It just feels easier to spend a couple of hours first thing on our most intensive subjects, the things the kids are most likely to need help with. It cuts down on interruptions during our independent work/read-aloud blocks which follow.

 When we finish with a book for the day, it gets put back in the crate. It is very motivating to see the pile on the table shrinking and the crate getting filled up again. When all the books are back in, the crate goes back on the shelf until the next day.

My next block post will be about the block of time I spend with Rose right after we finish our language arts work. I’m also working on a post about our row of Night of the Moonjellies, which we are almost finished with.

Till next time!

Our Spring Brave Writer Routine

I just posted the other day about how I haven’t made very many changes at all this year to our curriculum. That must have got my mind in gear a bit, because lately I have been feeling like our language arts choices are a bit lackluster. I do still like and plan to use both Writing with Ease and Writing with Skill, but for now I think we need something different for awhile. A breath of fresh air, creativity….something fun! Must be spring in the air. Anyway, I started thinking about Brave Writer again and our old Bravewriter plan.

The main thing I do not love about Brave Writer and The Writer’s Jungle is that they are so messy…for lack of a better word. I tend to gravitate toward neatly laid out, open-and-go programs. That’s why I made that list, so I could just do the next thing. But the way we do things has changed quite a bit, so an updated list was in order.  We read a lot of poetry for Bookshark and we already have our own teatime ritual, so I didn’t need that on the list. Movie-watching and discussing has just become a regular family thing as the kids have gotten older; it didn’t need to be on the list. Ditto with games.

My general plan is for Christopher to do Writing with Skill Level 1 about twice each week, probably on copywork days, in addition to our BW activities.   Grace will alternate between Writing with Skill and The Creative Writer most days, joining in with BW activities as she wishes. I did give her the option of taking a WWS break, but she wants to stick with it and finish the book. My younger two are going to take a break from WWE to focus on our BraveWriter activities.

Our Spring Brave Writer Plan

* Mondays: Copywork

* Tuesdays: Work on Writing Project  (list below)

* Wednesdays: Copywork or current writing project (whichever feels right that day)

* Thursdays: Dictation & work on project

* Fridays: Freewrite 

More information on copywork, dictation, and freewriting can be found in The Writer’s Jungle, or on the  Brave Writer Lifestyle page. I will also be sharing our experiences as we go along.

So copywork, dictation, and freewriting will make up our basic writing framework. Each week we will also spend at least two days working on our current writing project. I am trying to embrace a less is more approach, so we will focus on just one (or two short) writing projects each month. 

March Writing Projects

* Keen Observation Exercise – over the course of two weeks or so… observe and take detailed notes on an object, turn the notes into a paragraph, then work on editing and word choice.

* Start some sort of list on one of our copywork days (lots of ideas in TWJ for doing this!).

* Read some limericks and tongue twisters together and try writing some!

April 

* Retell a famous story.  This link is helpful. I plan to introduce some basic plot diagramming as part of this project. Illustrations would be great for this as well!

*Choose a freewrite to revise next month. By month’s end we should have about eight freewrites to choose from.

May

* Work on editing chosen freewrites, including expanding on them as necessary… again, lots of tips in TWJ for doing this.

I think this plan should take us through the spring and straight into our summer break. I am pretty excited about it and the kids are too!

A Review of First Language Lessons Level 1

Rose and I have been using First Language Lessons Level 1 for a few weeks now, so I thought I might do a little review of it.

First of all, we don’t have the exact copy of the book that I am linking to, we have the first edition, where levels 1 & 2 were combined in one book. So keep that in mind. I am not sure exactly how the new version differs from the older one, but I imagine that the overall feel and content of the program are the same. This is my fourth time using FLL! Our copy is getting a bit dog-eared…

FLL 1 is a very gentle introduction to grammar. Very little writing is required from the child, which makes it perfect for a first-grader who is ready for the concepts and ready to work on some narration and memorization skills, but isn’t quite ready to do a lot of writing. The child is sometimes asked to copy short things, like their address or name, but I will sometimes skip that part if I think Rose has already had enough handwriting for the day.

Most of the program is done orally and we usually do it on the couch before we do our read-alouds for the day.  Rose and I are on about lesson 30 of the 100 lessons, and so far she has memorized two poems, learned her address, done some story narrations, learned what common and proper nouns are and how to give examples of each, reviewed the proper full names of all of her relatives, and figured out what exactly an uncle/aunt/cousin is. She has also done a couple of picture narrations, which I will talk about in a bit.

Obviously, you do not need a scripted program to teach your child all of these things, but I enjoy having one just so I have less to think about and plan for. I also find that a lot of things that I would think would be obvious to her- like that her uncles are my brothers- are actually things she finds confusing and has benefited from going over.  When I say this program is “scripted”,  I mean that the program tells you exactly what to say to the child and that it also tells you what sort of answer to expect back from them. I do not usually read the script word for word, but I find it helpful to fall back on when I don’t know exactly how to explain something. Or when I am tired, which is pretty much always!

So some things that FLL focuses on….

Grammar: Obviously there is grammar in this book! But it is very gentle, with lots of repetition built in. There are about 46 lessons that mention common and proper nouns before pronouns are introduced.  That sounds kind of excessive, but it doesn’t feel that way when you are doing it. One day we talked about nouns that are things and looked around the room naming some “things”, another day we talked about places and brainstormed some common and proper nouns for places: “store” and “Target”, for example. And another day, when we talked about proper nouns, she got to try to remember the full names of all of her cousins. One thing we do feel like we are constantly doing lately is reviewing the definition of a noun. I am sure that she can say: “A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea” in her sleep. But you know what? I find it kind of funny to hear a six-year-old spouting off stuff like that. She does, too. My older kids know the definitions of all of the parts of speech by heart and it is definitely due to FLL!  So yes, there is a lot of repetition, but it is not mind-numbing, at least to us.  Later on in this level, we are going to be learning about pronouns, action verbs, abbreviations, capitalization, initials, titles of respect, and the four kinds of sentences.

Poem Memorization: Every few lessons we are asked to memorize a poem. The poem is included in the book and we read it several times the first day. On subsequent days there is a little reminder at the top of new lessons to review the poem we are working on and/or to review some of the older ones we have already learned. The poems are the perfect length for this age, and Rose has been very happy to learn them.

Story Narration: Sometimes, instead of a grammar lesson, we are given a story narration to do. We read a short story together from the book, something like “The Tortoise and the Hare”. Then, there are some questions in the book that I can ask her to help her summarize the story. Finally, she narrates the story to me while I write it down. The idea is to help the child condense the story into just 3-4 sentences, though I will often let Rose’s go longer because she loves detail so much. 

Picture Narration: Picture narrations include a black and white picture with accompanying scripted text to help you discuss the picture with your child.  These are often used to reinforce a grammar lesson. Recently, we were given a picture of a family baking cookies and we were asked to guess what each person’s proper name might be. The picture narrations are short and fun and a nice break from the grammar.

Copywork: We have not quite reached the lessons where copywork is included as part of the lesson, but when we do, I suspect we will skip that portion of the lesson because we are also using Writing with Ease.

Optional Enrichment: Many of the lessons include a short “optional enrichment” activity for children who are ready to write more. These include thing like having the child decorate a copy of a poem they learned or having them do a short copy-work exercise, perhaps writing a sibling’s full name or a short letter to a friend. We skip most of these.

Other Things of Note: Very few materials are needed to complete this program. If you have the book, some paper, and a pencil you are mostly good to go. Some of the enrichment activities call for basic art supplies.  It looks like you can’t see a sample of FLL on Amazon, but there is a sample on the Peace Hill Press website. Rose and I do three lessons per week, usually on three separate days, though I sometimes double up if a lesson is very short. Lessons usually take no more than 5-10 minutes.

After all of this,  I will say that I don’t think grammar is really needed at this age at all.  Everything introduced in FLL 1 is covered again in the later levels, and waiting a few years will not cause harm, at least in my opinion! I never finished FLL 1 with James, for reasons I can’t even remember, and he has done no formal grammar since. So he is really getting grammar pretty much for the first time this year, with First Language Lessons Level 4. He is doing just fine with it and I will review that level at a later date.

Since Rose is enjoying this program so much, I do plan to continue it with her. I do think there is a lot of benefit in the “other” parts of the program (narrations, poetry, learning your address etc..) and would continue the program just for that.

Started: Zaner-Bloser 1

Rose is my child who is always itching for something to do. She loves doing her schoolwork and always wants to do more. But I have three other kids to teach too, so sometimes she needs something she can do  independently. I need to find some more things she can do by herself to keep her busy. She started her new handwriting book today, which doesn’t count as entirely independent work because she needs help with the explanations, but I can usually help someone else at the same time, so it’s a start.

She is working on Zaner-Bloser Grade 1.

 She did several pages today because the book starts out very slowly. The first pages ask the child to write their name, some letters they know, and their age….

 Then she got to circle the letters in her name, she got a kick out of that. The ZB books are very colorful and user-friendly…

 I especially love the green dots that show her where to put her pencil each time! She has trouble remembering where to start letters, and I think those will be a big help….

There are also red dots that will show her where to stop letters. This is the next page she will do.

And here is the facing page, where vertical lines are explained. She will be tracing lines down the sides of the colorful houses before beginning her “l’s”.

I will also be having her do copywork from Writing With Ease Level 1,  but not until she starts copying words and sentences in her handwriting book. That won’t be for awhile yet, but here’s a sneak peek…

I jotted a note to myself in the upper-right corner to start WWE at roughly this point in the handwriting book. I want her to be comfortable writing words and short sentences before we begin.

Zaner-Bloser is the top handwriting recommendation from The Well-Trained Mind, though I don’t seem to hear much about it outside of that book. I really like these handwriting books and the only downside I have found to them is that they are only available from Zaner-Bloser and you usually need to pay shipping. I have seen some complaints that they do not contain enough practice, but they seem just right to me. I would rather have her spend more time on fewer letters and words than get tired and do a whole page of messy words. 
 I also reviewed Zaner-Bloser here

Making The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Reading More Fun

I love The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. It is cheap, easy to use, effective, and thorough. I am using it now for the fourth time! There is only one small problem with it….it isn’t always the most fun reading program!

The book itself is just black and white text, with the script for the parent to read in small print and the words and sentences for the child to read in bigger print. No bells and whistles here….

And really, that’s good, because it forces your new reader to focus on the words and not get distracted by pictures, which can cause them to guess rather than read. But if you have a child that really loves bells and whistles, OPGTR can be a really tough sell.

To be fair, I should point out that there are some games and other fun little activities in the book, and the number of those seems just right to me. I am not one who loves doing lots of hands-on stuff every day, it just stresses me out. Looking ahead, I can see that she will soon be reading the word “pop” just before she pops a paper bag and that we will be making up silly sentences and playing go-fish type games. To me, this book is plenty “fun” enough and I really appreciate it’s simplicity.  My six year old, however, does not agree!

I started OPGTR with Rose shortly after she turned five. She was very resistant and just generally did not seem ready, so I put it away for a few months. Again, she did not seem ready, so I put it away for a few more months. Shortly before she turned six, I brought it back out. She was more interested, but clearly did not find the book terribly engaging. It was, in her words, boring.  I spent a lot of time researching other programs. All About Reading jumped out as one I thought she might love, but I did not love the price-ouch!

So instead of buying a new program,  I set about trying to make OPGTR more fun. Here’s how we are doing it now!

First, we set up our reading lesson on the back porch whenever it is nice. We have our OPGTR book, a pad of stickers, a small notebook, any OPGTR flashcards we need that day, plus a few special friends to help us.

Today, we have three characters from Frozen joining in the lesson! They take turns reading the words to us, with much encouragement and help from Rose.

Instead of reading out of the book, which can be a bit overwhelming, I put the words we will read on our magnet board. This way, it is much easier to focus, plus the word looks a little more interesting. Our letter tiles and magnetic board are both sold by Peace Hill Press. They have seen better days, as you can see here, but are still going strong.

After one of our “helpers” has read three words they get to choose a sticker to add to our reading notebook. I chose an inexpensive notebook and stickers we had around the house; I may eventually get a more special notebook or sticker book for this.

 Our “helpers” take turns reading the words and adding stickers to the book. They can add stickers even if if takes a few tries to get the word, I am trying to encourage effort rather than perfection! 

We finish the lesson by reading the short story that is at the end of most lessons.  Rose is usually eager to have a turn at this point-she doesn’t seem to realize that she has been doing the work all along! She reads the story sentences straight from the book, I do not put them on the magnetic board. I ordered this handy little reading helper help her keep her place. You just set the reading helper over the line of print to be read, and it is highlighted for you! These are available from Rainbow Resource Center.

Reading Helper Light Blue Standard | Main Photo (Cover)
At this point, if she is up for doing more, we choose a beginning reader or two to read, like one of our BOB books.
Rose has really blossomed with this method and  is much more willing to put in the effort needed to learn how to read. I often see her trying to puzzle out words on her own and she likes to show off her new skills to Daddy. I don’t know if this method will continue to work in the long run, but it has definitely gotten her over the initial bump of sounding out those three letter words!  And it’s way cheaper than switching to AAR!